Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Cusco And The Epic Ride To Machu Picchu

The sun wakes us up early in the morning and we find ourselves in a desolate but beautiful region. I make coffee and one after the other emerges from their tents. It is still a long way to Cusco and we are not sure we’ll make it today. Patrick wants to gun it there but we are not keen on racing and making it there by nightfall. We decide to split up for the day and we see the guys disappear over the horizon. We take it easy as we make our way up to the highlands. 
What a place to wake up!
My morning ritual. Making coffee for Azure...
And Matt's... Respect for doing exercises while on the road buddy!
In a small town we find Tim sipping coffee. He had been hungry and wanted to stop and the guys kept going. As Azure is always up for more coffee, we join in. On my way to the toilet I run into the neighbor who is butchering a cow in the backyard. Not something you will come across in Holland anymore. I watch for a while as they carefully remove the skin. This cow will feed the whole village for a while. 

The youngsters patiently learning the skills.
We truly enjoy the corners that take us up higher and higher. It is cold up here but we get to see a whole different side of Peru. The flat highlands are boring at first sight but there are many small communities up here making a living by herding llamas. Small herds of wild vicunas cross the road out of nowhere and we have to be careful not to let the spectacular scenery distract us too much.This is also where Azure gets sick for the first time on this journey. At first we think it's food related and then we realize that we're riding at high altitude and it's likely altitude sickness. Regardless, the frequent stops on the side of the road give me ample opportunity for photo ops of llamas.The little ones are very cute and furry and naturally Azure wants one. If she could we would be Noah’s Arc on two wheels by now. 
The curves turned into long, straight, perfect pavement, crossing the pampas.
Vicuna's roaming freely. What a sight!
What!?! Us?!? No way! We did not cross the road right in front of your bike. It was the llamas!
This is how the people live up here. The corrals for the llamas are built with stones.
Such a simple life but great to be one with nature.
No you can't have one Azure! They are damn cute though...
And there is definitely no shortage of llamas.
Hmmm.... this reminds me of a certain band... They had a song called "She's got a ticket to ride"... One is missing though.
A lovely home but just a little too remote for me.
Azure, how often do I have to tell you to hold the camera still and not move it along with the action! ;)
He certainly dressed up for the occasion.
We are in constant awe of what mother nature has to offer in Peru.
A few miles down the road the colors of the rocks have changed yet again.
In the town of Abancay we have a quick bite to eat and look for the guys. They are nowhere to be found and we ride out. The road starts climbing again. It’s green here and the smell of clean air lifts up our spirits. On top of the pass the wind picks up but soon we’re riding through forests and towns again. It is getting late and we find a place to camp on a dirt road. A minute after we stop the bikes a tractor turns onto our road. I did not expect that at this time of day. With our cover blown we continue and have a hard time finding anything suitable. About an hour later we see some bright lights on the side of the road. Tim was waiting for us as the guys checked out another dirt road leading to a river. Although it was a weekday and it was late, the natural hot springs at the end of the road were crowded and we rode all the way up again. Another half an hour down the road we found a place next to a bridge. It was late again but we were close to Cusco and had had a stunning day of riding. 
Somewhere in the middle of the night, Tim gets violently ill. Another one feeling the effects of the altitude.

As we ride through the suburbs we get our first glimpse of Cusco down in the valley. It looks promising but it takes us a long time to get there, fighting traffic for every square inch as we go. It does give us a better impression of the real city. Most tourists that fly into the gateway to Machu Picchu will never experience the slums, the garbage and the thousands of street dogs that surround the beautiful old center of town. 
A tribute to one of the last Inca's standing. Interesting detail is that they made his hand point at the Spanish built Cathedral behind me.
The Plaza des Armas is absolutely stunning but the stones to build the Church, the Cathedral and many other buildings were taken from the walls of the Inca fortress on the top of the hill.
Magical sunset over the city.
Azure and Tim adjust to the altitude (many cups of Mate de Cocoa later) and recover. We spend the next days exploring Cusco and its surroundings and preparing for our visit to Machu Picchu. The old square is beautiful and the Inca fortress of Saqsaywaman (or sexy woman as most tourists have come to call it) gives us an opportunity to stretch our legs before the hike to Machu Picchu.. The massive blocks that form the impressive wall of the fortress fit into each other perfectly. We still don’t know exactly how they managed to do this back then. It looks impenetrable. Just looking at it stopped us from invading right away. Add to that the burning sun and the altitude and we were beat.

These stones were too big for the Spaniards to carry down to town to build there Churches.
Pretty stunning defenses!
Yep, you could not get a needle in between!

A little siesta before storming the fortress.

Inca theme park! What a ride!
Azure leading the attack.
I don't want to be that tourist but the colors begged for a picture.
I leave her alone for 1 minute and she manages to get a llama on a leash.
Gotta love colorful Peru.

The beautiful streets of Cusco.
Our preparations for Machu Picchu are made easy by our friends Shannon and Mike who have written an extensive report on how to visit the sacred sight for less money than most people shell out. All we had to do was follow in their footsteps. We buy tickets in town and set out on our bikes, avoiding the expensive train and bus ride. 
We managed to get special tickets for Huayna Pichu as well at the ticket office.
On our way to Machu Picchu we visit another Inca ruin. Pisaq gave us a good idea of how the Inca’s lived back then but also, how they buried their dead. We thought we would be able to see it all in an hour but we ended up spending quite a bit of time learning about its history and taking in the views. I was blown away by the ancient structure. A must visit if you ever find yourself in Peru! 

The fortress of Pisaq with it's agricultural terraces being part of their defense system. Good luck invading this place!

Did I say how they lived... How they are living, I meant.
Every hole used to be the final resting place of a mummy. There were thousands of them.
We continued through the “Sacred Valley” and had lunch at the bottom of yet another Inca stronghold; Ollantaytambo. With many miles ahead and a long walk along a train track to our final destination we skip climbing the many stairs and just enjoy the view from below. There is no skipping the climb up the mountain pass that we have to take to get to Santa Theresa, the closest you can get to MP with your own vehicle. We thought we had already seen Peru’s most beautiful mountain roads but we are not so sure anymore as the road winds its way up past numerous small Inca ruins. The way up is just astonishing but as soon as we make it to the top of the pass a dark cloud moves in and it does not stop raining until we are all the way down the mountain on the other side. We are soaked and cold to the bone but we have to keep going. 

Just wow!
Such a pity we have to ride the same way back... ;)
It is easy to imagine an Inca stronghold in these misty mountains.
In Santa Maria we turn left onto a dirt road along a river. Before long the road hugs the mountain slopes and the drop offs get steeper and deeper. Not a place to rush through but the sun is about to set. The views are spectacular and so is the riding. Just before sunset we all make it safely to the town of Santa Teresa where we store our bikes in the lobby of a hotel. 

No words can describe riding a bike here...
It certainly feels like a magical place.
The ride to Santa Theresa is packed with adventure. Mud, dirt, rocks, steep deep drop offs and river crossings.
I love Peruvians. Imagine doing this in a hotel lobby in the US or Holland!
An hour later we are in a taxi towards a hydroelectric plant from where we will continue our journey by foot. The driver is a true rally driver and magically dodges most of the bumps and potholes in the road. In complete darkness we set out on our three hour long expedition along a train track through the rain forest. It is a little bit freaky in the dark. A short part of the track leads away from the track through the jungle. We have no clue whether we are going in the right direction. We run into another track and decide to follow it. It is not until we encounter someone coming from the other direction that we are sure we are on the right track. 
The first meters along the track were well lit...
But soon it was dark and we did not see this sign... ;)
Two and a half hours and a lot of sweating later we are getting closer to Aguas Calientes. On a very narrow part of the track we suddenly hear the horn of a train. Great! We hug the wall while a light comes closer. With a lot of noise the train comes rolling down the tracks. It is about time we get to town and find a place to sleep instead of dodging trains in the dark. Around the corner it gets better as the only option is to go through a long tunnel and somehow there is a lot of train activity this late. Just past eleven we stumble into town and find a hotel for what is left of the night. We still need to eat something but there is a power outage and everything seems closed. A wood fired pizzeria on the main square saves the day and soon after we fall into a deep sleep. What a day.


  1. So, who has the instructions how to get there without paying for the expensive train?
    Can't wait to see the photos.

  2. I was going to ask the same question.. You guys got a link for Shannon and Mike? :) I'm way too excited now... catching up to your tour, while preparing for mine! :)